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All reviews - Movies (157) - TV Shows (4) - Books (2)

Incredibly Off-Putting

Posted : 5 years, 2 months ago on 6 October 2013 07:48 (A review of Tideland (2005))

"Tideland," Terry Gilliam's fantastical horror brain child, is an undeniably original, unmistakably repulsive journey into the life and mind of one troubled little girl (Jodelle Ferland.) To say it outstays it's welcome it an understatement, the film clocks at over two hours and leaves an undeniably bad taste in one's throat. The characters are hard to comprehend, much less like or understand.

All this would be bad enough without the bizarre intro by Terry Gilliam, who vaguely informs us that children 'bounce back' from situations such as these and tells us 'don't forget to laugh.' But what is there to laugh at in a disgusting horror show such as this? it's as if Dave Peltzer of 'A Child Called It' fame had promised us a knee-slapping good time.

Between the role of Jeff Bridges as the girl's junkie father, who sits down in a chair to shoot up, dies, and spends the majority of the movie in various states of decomposition, our prepubescent heroine trading 'silly kisses' and sexual curiousness with a mentally retarded man (Brendon Fletcher,) and Daddy (prior to his death) instructing his daughter to prepare heroin for him, I found very little to laugh at in this revolting freak show.

The fact that Gilliam expects us to laugh and see this whole travesty through the eyes of a child speaks volumes on the man's mental stability. What does he think we are? Animals. Sub-human cretins who are all-too-eager and willing to laugh at the mental and psychological destruction of a child? Apparently, if Gilliam should have his way, we will be laughing at child endangerment through the eyes of that child, oblivious to the adult consequences of such atrocities. Mmm-kay.

After her harpy mother (Jennifer Tilly) O.D.'s Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), ten or eleven or so, is swept away from the squalid tenement she calls home by her druggie father (Bridges,) and tries her best to adjust to her new home in her father's childhood house on the massive prairie, far away from anything. When Dad dies, Jeliza-Rose acts much as if he was alive, talking to his corpse and exploring the prairie, where she meets local freak Dell (Janet McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother, Dickens (Fletcher.)

Dell, who as it happens, bangs the stuttering grocery delivery boy (Dylan Taylor) in exchange for food, takes a liking to Jeliza-Rose and invites her and her doll heads (Jeliza-Rose frequently talks through her collection of severed doll's heads, did I mention that?) to live in her and Dickens' family home.

"Tideland" often references Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland,' as Jeliza-Rose 'falls down the rabbit hole' from one bizarre situation to another. Although technically well-made in many respects, "Tideland" is yucky, overlong, and had me begging for it to end by the halfway point.

Jodelle Ferland turns in pretty good performance as Jeliza-Rose (although I found her Southern accent exaggerated) and Brendan Fletcher gives a decent supporting performance as Dickens (who, through no fault of his own, reminded me a bit of Ben Stiller's 'Simple Jack') but overall the film is a fail. I would recommend you watch "Alice" by Jan Svankmajer as a dark take on "Alice in Wonderland" rather than this. It is less sickening and doesn't make you feel like you're watching for hours on end, but hey, that's just me.

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Offbeat Small-Town Murder

Posted : 5 years, 2 months ago on 2 October 2013 10:13 (A review of Clay Pigeons (1998))

Apparently, filmmaker David Dobkin was inspired to make this after seeing "Fargo." Despite never reaching the creative heights as the Coens' 1996 masterpiece, "Clay Pigeons," set in a small Montana town peopled with idiosyncratic characters, functions well as a unique independent film with bite and quirky oddness to spare.

Here's the deal- loser Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) is banging his best friend Earl (Gregory Sporleder's) white-trash girlfriend, Amanda (Georgina Cates). When Earl gets sick of being two-timed, he gets drunk and commits suicide in front of Clay, trying to frame him for his death.

This leads to a string of events that leave Clay totally shaken and out of his comfort zone, as bodies pile up, friendly serial killer Lester Long (played by Vince Vaughn, but don't let that run you off) befriends Clay, and acerbic FBI agent Agent Shelby (Jeanane Garofelo) is on the case.

I found the beginning of this film a little shaky in terms of acting and writing, but I'm glad I hung in there because the film got a hell of a lot better after the first twenty-or-so minutes. I never fell in love with Joaquin Phoenix as Clay. I understand that maybe he was supposed to be sort of a boring, reactionary character, but I never connected with Clay or the performance.

I'll admit, I haven't seen Vince Vaughn in much and had no expectations except maybe low ones from the general opinion- which is, well, that Vaughn can't act his way out of a paper bag. I was pleasantly surprised. Vaughn did great in this role as Lester Long, he was revalatory in his villain performance in the way that Matthew McConaughey was in "Killer Joe."

Vaughn's laugh- like a alien entity playing at being human- was particularly chilling. I will say his character may have been more compelling than either of the kidnappers in "Fargo." My favorite character, hands down, was Detective Shelby, played by Jeanane Garafelo.

She was so smart and tough! She was a woman who was afraid to let her guard down, and had picked her job over having a regular life. I really respected her. The way she handled the amateur small town police force was hysterical.

Although I don't think this is in the same category with "Fargo," "Clay Pigeons" is still a intriguing comedic thriller with strong acting and character development.

I would call it the Vince Vaughn movie for people who hate Vince Vaughn, and the Jeanane Garafelo movie for people who get sick of her Liberal politics but would like to see her play a fabulous character. "Clay Pigeons," despite it's flaws, is an exciting debut, and a worthwhile movie.

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What Can I Say

Posted : 5 years, 2 months ago on 28 September 2013 01:32 (A review of Elephant)

"Elephant" is an interesting experiment, which could benefit from some editing and stronger acting. The ambiguity that surrounds the motivations of the killers is a frustrating, but perhaps relevant, critique of the shroud of confusion that surrounded the Columbine killings.

Parents, teachers, bullies, and the media were all held under scrutiny, and many school shootings later, we're still holding candles in the dark as to what motivates these kids to kill their peers- and themselves- in a time that seems rich with possibility.

The film is presented in a series of vignettes of students habitating a generic high school on the day of a Columbine-like massacre. Using nonprofessional actors and a handheld camera, the film recounts the a day in the kid's lives- for many, their last- slowly following them around the school as they interact with their teachers and each other.

The stand-out actors here are Alex Frost, as Alex, the apparent leader in the duo of shooters, and Matt Malloy as Mr. Luce, the apathetic principal. Most of the acting (unsurprisingly, considering the inexperience of the cast) is rather stiff and listless, while attempting to be 'real' and 'natural.' The stillness of the performances are rather confusing considering the extreme nature of the subject matter.

The characters are relatively interesting, not worth falling in love with but worth observing and studying. The most compelling character for me was Michelle (Kristen Hicks) a geeky student who deals with the bullying of her peers and the apathy of her teachers. Self-conscious of her legs, Michelle is told to tough it out and forced to wear shorts by an uncaring gym teacher.

The kids' individual dramas are made obsolete, a least for a little while, by the bigger drama of the shooting. This film is SLOW. 20% of the film is spent following the students, watching the back of their heads with intent interest. I would not recommend this movie to people who like fast-paced cinema. To people who are tolerant of slowness and stillness, I would not necessarily recommend it either.

"Elephant" is more an experiment than a full-fledged feature, and people out for entertainment should just forget it. But what do you expect with a Gus Van Sant indie movie about a school shooting? Sicko (cough.) Anyway, I feel pretty neutral about the feature as a whole. Some people might find it to be a film-student's dream, others will be bored silly. Though I may dismiss it, I will not forget it either.

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The Breakdown Of A Family

Posted : 5 years, 2 months ago on 16 September 2013 08:23 (A review of Stoker)

At it's worst, "Stoker" is stiff, awkward, and simply too artsy for it's own good. At it's best, however, it is beautifully photographed, well-acted, and loaded with atmosphere.

Although there are certainly a lack of likable characters, "Stoker" gets points off the spookily edgy presentation of it's subject matter, and from the great performance and characterization of the seemingly fragile lead's Uncle Charlie, and enigmatic charmer with a killer smile and a lifetime's worth of secrets.

Young India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is thrown off balance by her father's death and the appearence of her mysterious Uncle (Matthew Goode,) who evokes feelings in her of... what? Yearning? Anger? Sadness? A beast lurking just below the surface, waiting to jump out and take over?

India's needy mother cannot understand her daughter, and it seems India's father was the only one who could reach her, primarily through long hunting trips. Uncle Charlie has a stalker-ish way of following pale, serious India around and popping up behind her, but is India the victim of his strange desires?

The dialogue of "Stoker" is very chilly and stylized, and sometimes hard to buy into %100. The cinematography is beautiful. From a Daddy Longlegs crawling up the heroine's socked leg to the popping of a blister, director Chan-Woo Park seems to tap into the beauty lingering behind every image.

Later in the film, I was starting to feel like Uncle Charlie's motivations were annoyingly unclear, a setback that even Matthew Goode's astonishing acting could not fix. By the end, I had mixed feelings. One one hand, Charlie was a fascinating character.

On the other, his motivations didn't go much deeper past the initial obsession. I know the 'traumatic childhood' trope is a bit of a cliche, but give me something here!

"Stoker" is a chilling, restrained, and altogether visually sumptuous work of art. Matthew Goode is a dominating presence among a good cast including Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and "The Silver Linings Playbook"'s Jacki Weaver.

I recommend this for people who are familiar with Chan-Woo Park's Korean films and want to see the director do something new and different should give "Stoker" a shot. Those that aren't may still find a lot to like in this Gothic chiller.

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Stomach-Churning, Unnerving Horror

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 14 September 2013 10:39 (A review of American Mary (2012))

Moral depravity, sexual deviation, and extreme body modification are all on gut-churning display here in "American Mary," a surprisingly polished indie horror film with a impressive performance by Katherine Isabelle.

As someone who found "The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)" too strident, I can say I found that "American Mary" had a well-needed (and unnerving) realism that adds a kick to the violent scenes, of which there are many. Oh, boy, you have no idea.

Mary Mason (Isabelle) is a seemingly normal, attractive aspiring surgeon who is introduced to the world of Extreme Body Modifications. Want laces sewn through your back? 'Need' horns applied to your head for a more demonic look? Mary is on the job.

But when Mary is attacked at a party, her surgical skills come to good use as she deals with the attacker in the harshest way possible. My first reaction is shock that this 'body modification' thing actually exists. My second reaction is actual pity for Mary's victimizer. No THING, no matter how dastardly, deserves that.

The cinematography in "American Mary" is very prim and professional, and the make-up and gore effects challenge the assumption that 'indie' is synonymous with 'amateur.' I was nearly convinced that the face of the actress who played emotionally damaged plastic surgery freak Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) was the real deal but I soon discovered that Lindberg was a perfectly lovely blonde.

The mask-like face of modifier Beatriss (Tristan Risk) is equally frightening, though less believably so. The performances were altogether good, and I think Katherine Isabelle has what it takes to become a modern scream queen. Her transformation from everyday college student to morally bankrupt 'underground' surgeon to sadistic, levelheaded, confident killer is compelling and adept.

Directors and sisters Sylvia and Jen Soska (who also appear in the movie as the 'Demon Twins from Berlin' have created a frightening vision of the moral abyss of the surgical world, and the freaks and refuse that exist within it. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the people who would put themselves through surgical Hell in order to deal with deep-seated issues that would be better confronted in the shrink's office.

Ruby Realgirl's bodily obsession was sickening, and you just wanted to tell her to TALK TO SOMEONE- that will help. The movie was really a tragedy in some ways, especially the end. The title "'American' Mary" makes you think after the movie is over about the price of beauty, the price of wealth, and how we define being 'happy' or 'wanted.' It's a bitter pill, but one well worth your time.

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A Laugh-Out-Loud Comedy!

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 3 September 2013 05:31 (A review of Horrible Bosses)

"Horrible Bosses" has a premise somewhere along the lines of the 1999 Mike Judge comedy "Office Space" but "Horrible Bosses" is more brazen, more over-the-top, and in my opinion, funnier. Although "Office Space" had some valid things to say about the ennui of working in a corporate firm, "Horrible Bosses" throws reason to the wind to deliver a hilarious but completely unrealistic story of a couple of immature guys who want to kill their heinous bosses.

Nick (Jason Bateman,) Dale (Charlie Day,) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are a none-too-bright trio of friends who have one thing in common- their rude, crude, and downright evil bosses. Nick's boss Dave Harkin (Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey) is a manipulative, outrageously jealous psychopath, while Dale, a faithful partner to his fiance (Lindsay Sloane,) is sexually harassed by his whore boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston, playing against type, with side-splitting results.)

When Kurt's kindly boss Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland) dies, Kurt is stuck with Jack's wildly irresponsible, insensitive, coke-snorting son Bobby (an overweight, hairpiece-donning, practically unrecognizable Colin Farrell.) When the men's jobs become hard to bear, the witless three hire a 'murder consultant' (Jamie Foxx) to help them finish the job.

Even though I don't find Jason Bateman to be a particularly interesting actor, he does fine here and is boosted by a funny script. Overall, the comedic acting is very funny, although the humor might be too crude for some people's taste. Having a man be sexually harassed by his hot female boss is a creative idea, and the indifference of his friends is relevant too- in society, males are supposed to be the horny ones who are receptive to any sexual signals, wanted or unwanted, coming their way.

Like if a man has sex with a fourteen-year-old girl, he's a pedophile, and she's a victim. If a woman has sex with a fourteen-year-old male, he's a... very lucky boy? It doesn't make sense, and the film illustrates hypocritical gender politics as Dale copes with his unusual dilemma.

I really think Horrible Bosses' script is extraordinary, I was laughing throughout. I think "Tropic Thunder," "Pineapple Express," "Knocked Up" etc. are really overrated, and it's nice to see an American comedy movie that's the real deal, i.e. a really funny mainstream comedy. I also think that Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell are better than people give them credit for, and they were hysterical here as two of the three horrible bosses.

"Horrible Bosses" is consistently funny and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good, slightly dark comedy. The cast is great and the dialogue is very quotable. Overall, it is a wildly entertaining diversion and should be watched by comedy lovers everywhere.

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A Lovely Movie

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 2 September 2013 05:14 (A review of My Afternoons with Margueritte)

"My Afternoons With Margueritte" is a sweet, touching, and somehow innocent love story that makes you want to discover the joys of reading all over again. I myself haven't read a book cover to cover in years, due to a visual tracking problem that has plagued me since childhood, but Germain (Gérard Depardieu)'s discovery of books reminds me of how much I enjoyed reading before it became so difficult. It makes me want to get out and read, damn it!. And while I'm at it, it makes me want to go out and meet a friend like Margueritte.

Dyslexic gardener Germain Chazes is considered a simpleton by his so-called friends, and driven to despair by his nasty old bag of a mother (played by Claire Maurier as an old woman and by Anne Le Guernec in the flashbacks). The only joy in his life is derived from his kind, much-younger girlfriend Annette (Sophie Guillemin,) the dubious companionship of his friends, and his hobbies and simple joys.

One day while walking in the park, eccentric Chazes meets also eccentric Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus,) a self-sufficient 95-year-old lady with a passion for books. Her zeal for reading brings up bad memories for ostracization for Chazes, who as a boy was at the mercy of his taunting mother and bullying teacher. However, Chazes reluctantly agrees to let Margueritte read to him, and this opens up new worlds of possibility for him.

Dodgy personal life aside, Gérard Depardieu is very good here as Germaine, who could be a terribly saccharine and stereotypical character. Originally assumed to be mentally disabled, Germaine is soon revealed to have a superior visual memory. His off-centeredness (Germaine counts the pigeons in the park every day and insists on naming them according to personality) may be due to his rather traumatic childhood, or just quintessentially him.

There are many tender and funny moments ("I never did drugs, but I never did books either" Germain muses,) and what could be a dark trek through miserable storytelling concerning Germaine's abusive childhood instead becomes an opportunity for redemption.

"My Afternoons With Margueritte" is a lovely movie that should have something for everyone. The two leads are very likable and quirky (but not in that insufferably self-aware way,) and the friendship at the center of the film is as beautiful and touching as a viewer could ask for. It might make a good double feature with "The Intouchables," another compassionate French friendship movie. A must watch!

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Essence of Dreams, Essence of Nightmares

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2013 10:56 (A review of Paperhouse (1988))

When I was a little girl, my younger brother and I were convinced if we strapped enough household wires to each other and fell asleep in the same bed, we could meet each other in our dreams. Of course, my mom told us it was impossible, but that didn't stop us from trying. Children with my wild imagination and faith in the impossible would love the concept of "Paperhouse."

Of course, "Paperhouse" has a very adult angle that makes it, ultimately, best for grown-ups. 11-year-old Anna (Charlotte Burke,) who is at that age where kids mouth off to their elders and will pick a fight over absolutely anything, faints in school on her birthday and is discovered to have a raging fever.

Bizarrely, when Anna faints, she discovers that when she's unconscious or asleep, she enters a world entirely unlike her own- to be precise, to a remote house she has drawn before her dizzy spells began. In the house she meets a boy, physically handicapped Marc (Elliot Speirs, who died at a tragically young age,) who bears startling similarities to a boy with muscular dystrophy who Anna's doctor (Gemma Jones) is seeing, and who Anna has never met outside to dream world.

Anna's unspoken issues with her well-meaning but hard-drinking father (Ben Cross) show up too when a fictional recreation of dad shows up at Anna and Marc's secret hideaway, raging, evil, and wielding a hammer. Caught between wakefulness and forever sleep by her life-threatening fever, Anna must fight for her sanity and her life, as well as the life of her newfound friend.

Contrary to certain opinions, I found the acting in this to be quite effective, from most of the child players as well as the adults. The kids aren't always the best, but what do you expect with newbies to the craft? Despite her brattiness, I didn't find Anna to be an unlikable character- actually, I saw her as a bright and willful child struggling to cope with a childhood harder than most.

The psychological angle here is really fascinating- Anna's mostly loving if distant father becomes a malformed monster in her dreams, while her mother (Glenne Headley) fails or refuses to see her husband's alcoholism and the rift between him and their daughter. It resounded with me for entirely personal reasons, and I loved the entertaining yet insightful script.

The set pieces here are also magnificent, and this movie has one of the scariest and most memorable dream sequences I've ever seen, the kind of thing that haunts the nightmares of any children unfortunate enough to watch it. The score, however, is mediocre- mostly typical 80's movie music.

"Paperhouse" is an entertaining and underrated gem of the 80's, and although it's not full blood horror, it has enough unnerving moments to make it 'light horror' for people who don't like really intense scary movies. Although it's not available as yet on Netflix, it's totally worth getting online if you have a DVD player that will play it. This is a great film about childhood dreams or fears around the lines of "Pan's Labyrinth" or "Coraline," and definitely worth checking out.

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Gory, Frightening Short

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 31 August 2013 05:58 (A review of The Backwater Gospel)

Although this is a pretty obvious short on the evils of religion, the animation here is breathtaking, the visuals frightening, and the script, for the most part, is pretty damn good too.

The angel of death, 'the undertaker,' is picking off the frightened residents of a small town, while the town's evil priest leads them on a witch hunt, leading to one man- the faithless, guitar-plucking hobo, who refuses to comply with the priest's reign of terror.

The corpse-like characters are truly grotesque and frightening, scarier than anything Burton could come up with. The bloody conclusion isn't stylized or humorous either- it's unflinching brutality is unnerving. There's also some pitch-black humor concerning religious hypocrisy, but it does little to relieve the unrelenting tone.

The short also raises questions about it's otherworldly time and place. Are these poor, pathetic souls in purgatory, dead already and doomed to be haunted by the specter of death? Does the film take place after a 'rapture-like' end of days, where 'The Undertaker,' ever vigilant, is picking off the last of them? We don't know. But the power of fear is keeping them thinking like frightened sheep, and behaving as a herd.

Filmmaker Bo Mathorne definitely knows how to animate in a compelling, non-derivative way, and his mastery of the art is impressive. The editing and sound mixing are also superior, bringing plausibility to the creepy, inhuman Undertaker. Whether you're a believer or a die-hard, hardcore atheist, you should consider giving this short a try. Just remember, it's a grim, bloody ride.

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A Gaudy Parade Of Sterotypes

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 30 August 2013 05:56 (A review of Herpes Boy)

Though not as bad as it's unfortunate title suggests, "Herpes Boy" derives humor on grotesque caricatures of it's secondary players. I've never seen so many shameless stereotypes masquerading as characters in one movie.

The only character with any depth is the birthmarked, self-proclaimed misanthrope protaganist, but we can only get a kick out of his angsty 'I hate people' routine for so long, and lead actor Byron Lane is short on charisma as well as talent.

Teen outcast Rudolph (Byron Lane)'s angst and ennui is understandable- between his clueless family and his lifelong bullying at the hands of just about everybody, who wouldn't be P.O.-ed? But his self-absorbed outlook on his jock father's fatal heart attack and his actual consideration of dissing his dad in the eulogy makes him often a less than sympathetic character.

Rudolph makes videos of himself and posts them online, where he talks mostly about his lame family, his birthmark, and how much he hates humanity. Apparently his self-absorbed rants touch a lot of people, and connect him with some of the human beings he proclaims his hate for.

When Rudolph's ditzy cousin (Kristeee with three 'e''s- cute) shows up for the funeral and sabotages Rudolph's videos,) Rudolph must stand up for outcasts, weirdoes, and misanthropes everywhere. His ambivalent feelings for his dead father make an appearance too, although they don't take center stage over his all-important online video-making.

There are a plethora of stereotypes on display here- the dumb bitchy blonde, the soft homosexual, the sassy, larger-than-life black gal, the token emo girl, the bubble-headed jocks, and so on, blah, blah, blah. If it makes you feel better, V.D. is nowhere to be found in this story (Rudolph is cruelly dubbed 'Herpes Boy' because of his birthmark,) and the movie has a few funny moments (mostly at the beginning.)

The actors are fairly average/fairly weak,except for the ones who play the parents and the gay uncle, who are decent in undemanding roles. Overall, "Herpes Boy" is forgettable now and will be outdated in twenty years, when the Facebook/Myspace blah-blah-blah craze is obsolete. Underwhelming in every way.

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